There is no doubt about it: Raising and caring for kids is expensive. Daycare and childcare are so expensive, in fact, that most couples must decide it if makes more financial sense for both parents to work or to go down to a single income and have one parent stay at home with the kids.

Studies show that about 25 percent of mothers in the United States assume the role of stay-at-home parent, while just 7 percent of men do the same. During the marriage, the tradeoffs involved in leaving the workforce to be a stay-at-home parent are a matter of personal preference and satisfaction. But if the couple ends up getting a divorce, the situation can result in a serious imbalance of earning power and income.

Like most states, Tennessee follows the “equitable distribution” model of property division. This means that assets must be divided equitably between spouses – though not necessarily equally. Therefore, the imbalance must usually be addressed through alimony (often called spousal support). A stay-at-home parent may not be the breadwinner of the family, but her (or his) contributions are nonetheless highly valuable. Moreover, leaving the workforce means losing skills and a career trajectory, making it harder to find good-paying work after divorce.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees about the value of stay-at-home parenting. In one recent study, more than 3,000 participants were asked about the same hypothetical scenario in which two professionals got married and had three children together. The wife left her career to be a stay-at-home parent. After 17 years of marriage, the husband filed for divorce.

Participants were then asked to make value judgments about each spouse’s contribution based on six different scenarios regarding each spouse’s occupation, education levels, accumulated property, etc.

Here were some of the results:

  • The amount that men would have awarded to the wife varied depending on factors like her educational level
  • Men were more likely to prioritize the importance of the breadwinner’s entitlement to earnings compared to the stay-at-home parent
  • Women were more likely to give the mother a larger share regardless of professional and educational credentials
  • Women were more likely than men to prioritize the value of at-home caretaking work

This study suggests that we have work to do when it comes to valuing the contributions of stay-at-home parents. If you left the workforce to take care of your kids and are now facing a divorce, please contact an attorney who will help you advocate for a fair share of marital property and an appropriate alimony award.